Declare.

Mark 8:27-38

Peter’s Declaration about Jesus

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”[a]30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel,[b] will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words[c] in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Bold question by Jesus in this morning’s text!  “Who do people say that I am?”  If someone were to ask that about you, what would you say?  Take a mental checklist of things to say…

If it were me, I’d first think of being a father, a spouse (most days if you ask Debbie I think), a pastor, a runner, a neighbor, etc.  

But, who are you really?  Who am I really?  I know that for me, those are roles that I play, sometimes well, sometimes not so well, but who I am, how I know myself and others, who really know me, are able to see me and I am able to see them at a deeper level.  

A few months ago, we talked about the South African Zulu greeting and response, “Sawa bona”.  When one is present with someone else, they would tell them, “I see you”, the response, “I am here.”  

It is a powerful statement of being present with someone else.  It also means that two folks have a deep sense of their own self because they are able to see others and to be present with others.  

In so many ways, I think that’s authentic friendship.  

We are seeing that in this morning’s gospel lesson from Mark.  Jesus is asking his disciples, who do people say that I am.  The disciples give a lot of descriptors, but only one, Peter, is able to see beyond the descriptors and to say that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the promised one, the true friend of all peoples regardless of social status, of life situations, of their actions or sins.  

Jesus doesn’t want the word to get out just yet, he tells his disciples to let things unfold, to be patient.

Jesus then goes on to say that he would suffer.  Greatly.  Friendship with humanity, authentic friendship, comes at a cost.  In this case, this kind of life was going to lead Jesus into GREAT suffering, incredible shame, being exposed fully to the world…naked, scarred, broken.

And, something else, that he would go through all of this, but then rise again.  That, out of his suffering, his humiliation, his death exposed to the world, that he would rise again.  That no matter what he goes through, that love will win out and he will rise.  

He said this openly and the disciples, especially Peter, were stunned.  They thought of the descriptors, they wanted a deliverer, someone who can save them but without the pain and humiliation.  They wanted a triumphant God, a national hero that would solve their problems but without the hurt and scandal.

Jesus would have none of that…he gets mad and has a rather strong rebuke for Peter, “get behind me Satan”.  

You see, friends, even genuine friends, sometimes get a bit cloudy or hazy in what they see in one another.  In this case, Jesus is strongly telling Peter to wake up, to not hide behind some kind of hero type messiah, a nationalist messiah that would deliver Israel from the Roman occupation or make them a great nation again in the eyes of the world.  

No, Jesus was saying that to follow him, there something deeper going on.  He is saying that he has come to give life, to give Presence, to all of those suffering with humiliation, with brokenness, with pain, and even death.  That they can walk with him as he walks with them through the throes of life.  And, that they too will rise with him…but, they, along with him, will have to go through the hard stuff of life.  

They may even lose their lives.  Actually, they will lose their lives, in order to gain life.  Everything.

Friends, as I continue the journey of this summer, and really my whole life, of reconciling within me the grief of loss, that even things that I may hold on to dearly are dying, that this is the process of life…and that the messiah, the true friend, is with me in that process and that I too am rising again in the midst of the shame and the suffering of death.  Being with mom for the 24 hours before she died was hard…it’s been hard with every person that I’ve witnessed die…but, when it’s your mom, it was hard to see her struggle, hard to hear her wanting to go home, then hard to hear her breathe so painfully for much of a day, and then to simply stop and be in that quiet moment.  At times there was a tragic beauty in it, but mostly not very dignified…it was a struggle.  

Yet, it’s something that we all will experience.  And, we have a hope in resurrection because of Jesus.  But, let’s also remember that Jesus’ resurrected body still bears the scars of his humiliation.  And, yet, he overcame…and so will we, scars and all.  

And, you know what, that’s good news.  We have an earthy, really, honest faith that not only is with us in the hard stuff, as well as the good stuff, but a faith that is like yeast in the dough as it says in scripture that is causing new and beautiful things within us to grow.  

Open.

Mark 7:24-37

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Sermon:

Going up a mountain can be hard!  Our son loves to climb mountains, I do as well.  I’m pretty adventurous, but my son takes it to new places.  On our vacation this year in the PNW, Brennan picked out three amazing hikes for us as a family.  All of them required ascending lots of vertical feet.  They were hard, yet, the views were worth it…and the journey up, as hard as it was, and at times thinking our son is wanting to get his inheritance early…we made it.  Along the way, we had some amazing conversations, some great openings, and even some growth.

Our psalm reading this morning is from the Psalms of Ascent.  

As we’ve discussed before, these are psalms that would be recited during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Devout Jews in the 1st century would go to Jerusalem to worship in the temple.  Jerusalem sits on a hill and the temple sets on a high place in the city.  To this day, it’s called the Temple Mount.  So, there was a sense that one would be travelling upwards, ascending towards Jerusalem, towards God.

Our gospel reading this am from Mark, from the Lectionary, which is a universal pairing of Scriptures for the church for daily reading in order to paint a picture of God’s activity in our lives, actually gives us two stories.

The first is a healing of the daughter of Syro-Phoenician woman.  The daughter is possessed by a demon.  This woman is not Jewish, and she crosses some major social boundaries in approaching Jesus.  First, she’s a woman and women in this culture did not approach men easily.  Second, she’s Syrian, she’s not Jewish.  The very fact that she confronts Jesus with her daughter’s plight shows great courage.  

Jesus had been about his ministry in Galilee, yet he retreated to the region of Tyre.  Maybe for some rest, or time to get away from the crowds in Galilee.  Yet, the crowds found him in Tyre.  

When the woman approaches Jesus, Jesus may have been tired.  His response to her seems kind of rough.  His response of letting the children be fed first gives an impression that Jesus was saying to her that he had come for Israel, not the rest of the world.  That it was unfair to throw the children’s food to the dogs, was comparing foreigners to dogs?  I’m not sure.

We have two dogs, both are amazing in their own way.  Ella, the oldest, is a hound dog that sleeps a lot.  Leo, the shepherd/pointer mix is full of energy and always “on” it seems.  They both hang out under the table during our evening dinners, just hoping for a scrap.

Now, I do love my dogs, but not the same way that I love my children.  So, this passage perplexes me.  

But, maybe it could be a sense of Jesus testing the faith of this woman, but even that seems harsh.  Or, as some commentators have said, maybe Jesus is making an outlandish statement to highlight his Jewish audiences’ prejudices or sense of entitlement.  Jesus is always pushing boundaries, taking risks, exploring where love may take him and even us.  

I’m not sure, but there is a shift in this passage towards an understanding that God’s Kingdom is inclusive and God’s love and presence is for everyone.  God is not satisfied being confined to a temple mount or tied to one particular privilege group of folks, God is available and pursuing all.

God also values folks  willing to seek him out.  This woman has some “moxie”, after Jesus’ comments, she comes back at him saying that even dogs are blessed or lucky to get crumbs.  Jesus doesn’t get defensive or try to “save face”, he simply is amazed at her faith and says that her daughter is healed.  And she is.  

Friends, this story is perfect for us on a day we celebrate communion.  God did not come to give us privileged status, but to provide himself to the whole world in which we can have communion, or community, or deep relationship.  God wants to go to everyone regardless of background or status.  God doesn’t show favoritism.

It’s not an accident that the author of Mark includes this next healing story of having one’s ears opened right after the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman.  Friends bring a deaf friend to Jesus.  Jesus declares an imperative “Be opened”!  And the man can hear!  I’m not sure what he experienced before that time, but I know he had to be disoriented when his ears were opened.  What was he hearing?  How did he process it?  How did he react?  One thing for sure, once he began to hear, his world began to change.

How many of you have had your ears cleaned out by a doctor?   My doctor pointed out, mowing my lawn with ear phones from my iphone causes wax build-up and apparently I have a very small ear canal.  I have had to get my ears dug out.  Which is literally what the gospel author is saying, we have to have ears dug out by God in order to hear.  We have a lot of cruddy stuff that prevents us from hearing.  Stuff like habits, pride, perceptions, image, cultural baggage, or emotional issues.  Whatever, we all have things that prevent us from hearing.  But, God is calling us towards God’s self.  God wants us to grow and be the persons we were called to be, all of us, together, in community.  

This man was deaf, God opened his ears through Jesus.  Jesus restored him into community.  That may have been messy and he may have things that he’s hearing and needing to share.  Which, he was also mute, so now he could share!  He was able to talk…and I’m sure he talked a lot for a while!  

Friends, may we hear God’s radically inclusive love calling out to us, inviting us into the beauty and sometime messy work of building relationships with our neighbors, this Nepali congregation that will be sharing our space, each other, and God.  May we come to this table this morning with a desire to be fully present with others and with this God.

Life.

John 6:53-60

53 So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’ 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

The Words of Eternal Life

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’

Psalm 84 gives us a great picture of what our approach, our attitude, our mindset should be every time we enter church.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
    to the living God.

If only we could have that sense of joy, of pleasure, of “loveliness” as we enter the church.  Now, of course, we all know that God’s dwelling place is not just confined to the church.  God is everywhere, all around us.  God’s dwelling place is, God’s residence, is ever present.  What would it be like if every time we got up out of bed, walked out the door into our neighborhood, we sensed such a deep connection with God’s Presence.  

It would be amazing, overwhelming, lovely.

However, we all know that isn’t the case.  We are consumed by so many things that crowd out a sense of joy.  We are busy, we have issues with others, we let anxieties overcome us, we can’t seem to cultivate that deep sense of belonging to one another and to God.  

If you are like me, you sometimes have weeks where you have to stop and pause in the midst of all that is happening around you and wonder if this world, or even your own world, is ever going to move towards becoming what you hoped it would be.

I know these past few weeks have been crazy with my mom dying from cancer.  Its been up and down and in the midst of a season of so much change, adaption, and growth…growth that isn’t easy…if it ever is or is supposed to be.  

I also began to wonder if I could be my true self in this context that I have found myself in.  In times like that, I need to know that others are willing to be in this together, to be in a place of covenant, of depth, of relational fidelity, a place of believing in one another.   This church has been that kind of relational space for me…for many of us. 

I have had other friends as well who have believed in me and I in them. Rob Waddles, who I grew up with.  He died at age 46, but his belief in me continues into death.  As does my grandfathers, my mom, my dad.  Bruce Baker when I was with Campus Life, Phillip Roebuck at Northminster, my partner, Debbie, on numerous projects over the years.  Jay Borck, Sean Gladding, Troy Bronsink, Mike Zimmer, Lisa Allgood, Daniel Hughes, Ed Goode, Julian Kenny, Andy Sexton, and so many others…as well as many of you.  

A hallmark in that belief in each other is a sense of deep humility, authenticity, and willingness to be fully present.  That’s hard.  A good example is Phillip Roebuck.  Phil is still one of my best friends, he’s 17 years younger than me.  He was in our Young Life club, amazing athlete and valedictorian at Wyoming HS, and graduated in the top 3% of his class at Harvard.  Phil also has one of the best, purest hearts of anyone I know.  He’s also extremely competitive and has a high capacity and desire to achieve.  He is honestly one of the smartest guys I know.

After I graduated from Fuller Seminary with my masters in divinity and moved back to Cincy, Phillip, who had just graduated from Harvard, was in a place of deep searching.  He wanted to know how he could grow and become what God intended for him. That led him to doing an internship with me at Northminster in student ministry.

I love Phil, so we made it a point to meet weekly, to be fully present with each other, to make sure we willing to submit to each other.  Early on I pledged to him that I would invest in him fully.  In the course of those two years, our friendship deepened and, to this day, even through lots of arguments, disagreements, hard feelings, as well as joys, amazing things accomplished together, and sharing of life.  

Now, let me be clear, our student ministry didn’t explode with numbers, actually, the first year we declined in numbers.  Phillip was, and still is, well known within our neighborhoods of Wyoming and Finneytown, we had an amazing group of adult leaders, we had great programs and were in the community all of the time.  The second year of the internship, something beautiful happened.  Community.  We began to see wonderful relationships deepen, community transformation, and a solid heading that continued on in the student ministry for quite a while…and, yes, some folks came into the church that are still there, even through some hard times at Northminster.

Why do I share this, because Phil and I made a commitment to believe in each other and to fight for each other’s friendship early on.  We built upon a foundation of my being in his life as his Young Life leader, to true friendship that gave us energy every day.  When we see each other, we echo the psalmists joy and feel as if we are in the Presence of God’s dwelling place.

Our gospel lesson this morning gives witness to that as well.  Jesus is continuing to share that to be with him meant to share in his life, to eat his flesh, drink his blood.  The very word, Sarx, means literally flesh…not sooma, which is another greek word that means body in the wholistic sense, the authors are using flesh to go to a guttural meaning…Again, sounds morbid, but what he’s saying is that we have to be willing to get into the very bowels of each other’s lives.  To love like we mean it, that each moment we are with each other, we are in the presence of someone made in God’s image and be willing to sacrifice for each other, to swallow our pride, to do things differently and to strive for authenticity.  Which, btw, authenticity is more than just being honest or “real”, it means being self aware and the surrendering of our self made identity in our work, projects, and even church.  It means living into the personhood that God created us to be, persons joined together with God, through Christ.  

The disciples are hearing this and realize that being this intimate with Christ and each other means deep change, deep awareness, and something that they couldn’t quite swallow.  They felt secure in the status quo and they let anxiety overtake them.  They realized that the hard work required for true community was too much.  I respect them for this recognition.  They were honest, and they left.  Jesus, at this point, was a failure at church growth.  Yet, Jesus also knew that something more beautiful, more lovely would happen.  Jesus wanted the disciples, and all of us to have life, real and full life.  It required taking in all of Jesus.  Richard Rohr talks about how hard this is, it seems like we in the church are constantly re-crucifying Jesus, constantly trying to put off our own death, yet Jesus says that’s exactly what we need to do, experience death so that we can experience resurrection life, true life.  

I have had to die so much in my relationships and even in my image of what could be. We all do.

Later in this story, in John 6, we have this passage about the crowd of followers after hearing Jesus:

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ 68 Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’

When Jesus asks Peter and the disciples that stuck around, what about you, Peter gives a feeble, but honest answer, where would we go, we don’t have anywhere else to go.  

We may be in that place today in our lives, we may feel like we don’t have anywhere else to go, but Jesus sticks by our side, believes in us, and calls us to partake in his life.  In so doing, we will change, it’s inevitable, we will also grow.  In this death and resurrection, we can trust that Jesus goes with us and we share in his life, even in the hardness.  Some of us may drift away, some may give up like many of the disciples.  But, for those of us willing to stick with Jesus and believe in each other, like the disciples, we may see the world change…at least our worlds.  

Abide.

John 6:51-58

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Sermon:

“To be or not to be”…isn’t that the great Shakespearean question?  What does it mean to be?  “Be” is the English languages most irregular verb…it’s a word of action…to be something or someone.  It is a verb of existence or reality.  I am in a car, I am in church, I will be grilling hamburgers tonight.  It is also a verb that points to relationship.  I am friends with…I am a member of this community…

This is something that has been incredibly important to me these past few weeks.  Being in friendship, relationship, community…here, in our church, and in the generations of friends that came by the hospital, the house, the funeral home, and the funeral service.  

Today I’d like to talk to you about being, specifically being in a friendship.  Over the course of my life, I have been blessed with some wonderful friendships and great community like we have here at Fleming Road UCC. 

I shared this at my mom’s funeral last week while officiating it.  “Mom, like her father, my PePa, believed in people.  She believed in me.  That has shaped me in more ways than can ever be explained.  It has led me to so many others throughout my life that have also believed in me.  My friend John McKnight, the well known author, teacher, community organizer, and mentor to many of the folks who have helped shape our culture over the years, once shared with me and another friend that his entire life has been touched and surrounded by the presence of God.  Why?  Because he’s been in relationship with people that believed in him…and that gave evidence to God’s belief in him as God is ultimately all about relationship. 

Mom exhibited the very nature of God.  The power of relationship.  She loved growing up in her community, has been blessed by community all of her life.  Wherever she went, she built amazing friendships.  So many people have invested in her over her life, the return on that investment has far outweighed anything that folks have put in!

Throughout my life, and even in so many ways the past few weeks, this investment in relationships was so evident.  

That makes sense, you see, we were all created to be in loving friendships or relationships with each other.  We were even created by a relational God.  It says in Genesis 1:27, that God created us in his image.  God’s image is one of relationship.  God exists in perfect unity as a three-in-one God…God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Three distinct persons, but of one essence…God’s essence is relational and that relationship demonstrates perfect love.  Out of that essence, that loving essence, God, the uncreated created us.  

If that wasn’t enough, creating us…God gave us the gift of God’s self.  God desires to simply be in relationship with us.  Throughout history God has demonstrated God’s pursuit of us, rescuing humanity from itself.  Humanity has sought to know God, yet we have often forgotten that God knows us and loves us.  

When Moses was being called by God out of a burning bush to go and preach release to the Jews who were being held as slaves in Egypt, Moses sought to know God’s name, because in those days, to know someone’s name was to know who they were, to have them define, to be in relationship and to know them.  Yet, when asked, God gave a peculiar answer:

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.’ “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation. (Exo 3:14-15 TNIV)

I am who I am.  The verb used here in Hebrew is “to be”. God is.  God is saying that he is wholly other and cannot be comprehended.  Yet, he goes on to say something more.  He is the God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Moses knew that God interacted with all of those people.  God is saying, in effect, I am a God of relationship.  I cannot be comprehended, but I can be apprehended.  

God with us.  God with us in relationship.  Ultimately that is displayed in God becoming one of us through Jesus.  Jesus is completely God and is the exact representation of who God is, a God of relationship.  

Our passage this morning is one of deep relationship.  We are continuing the theme of Jesus being the bread of life.  Jesus goes on to say that in order to have eternal life, or abundant life filled with meaning and purpose, a forever life, then we must consume Jesus’ body.  Again, the word flesh is used, it’s very graphic.  When some folks in the first or second century heard this reading from John after Jesus’ death, they actually thought Christ followers were espousing cannibalism!

Of course, that’s not true.  It’s a metaphor that’s implying that we must consume Jesus, we must take Jesus in to the deepest parts of who we are, even the parts that are messy, our very bowels.  We cannot change, grow, become self/others/or God aware without help.  We need Jesus’ life to rise up within and outside of us, to take Jesus in.  

Jesus goes on to say that we must remain in him, as he is remaining in us.  This is a phrase that is referenced in others parts of John.  

John 15:4 says this, “Remain  (or abide) in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”  Remain, or abide, live…Live in Christ.  How do we do that?  We are in Christ, he sustains all things.  We simply have the pleasure of saying thank you by living in the imperative of remaining in him.  Just like any relationship, we need to be with God and with each other in order to grow.  

Friends, we cannot truly live as we were meant to live separated from Christ or from each other…to attempt to do so makes us less than human.  We may not understand that completely, but our being our “I am” is found in the actions of Jesus.  Jesus is the exact representation of God to us and he is our truly human representative in the presence of God as God in the flesh.  

So friends, BE!  Be in and with Christ, consume Christ!  He is your identity…you are not defined ultimately by the color of your skin, how much (or how little) is in your bank account, what political party you identify with, or what you have done or not done…YOU are defined by Christ’s actions on your behalf!  Your wealth in this life is defined by the relationships you have which is defined by your relationship with Christ!  My truest friend has always been Jesus.  He is really different, yet I find my identity in him because of his pursuit of me.  Friends, as you live and find you identity in Christ, know that God wants to be with you and will not let you go! 

Bread.

John 6:24-35

24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

It’s good to be back with you this morning after a much needed, and very much enjoyed albeit short, vacation with my family.  I’ve heard great things from Dave Workman and others about last week’s service.  I actually listened to the sermon and much of the service while I was on a run in Seattle!  One of the great things that we are doing now out of the pandemic is having our services out on Zoom and Facebook Live!  It was so good!  

I also texted Dave right after the service!  He enjoyed being with y’all and I’m looking forward to catching up with him.

On our vacation this year, we went to visit friends in Seattle and to take time to hike in some amazing places outside the city.  Our son wanted to go to Seattle because of the University of Washington.  As many of you know, he’s deferred his college admission for a year to take a gap year and serve with AmericCorps.  He’s committed to the University of Pittsburgh for next fall, but can break that commitment if another school gives him a better offer (and pay his parents back for the tuition deposit that we had to pay Pitt to hold his spot for a year!!).  

We had a great time exploring the city.  I’ve been to Seattle quite a bit and we’ve had relatives that used to live there, but there’s always more places to find!  We also had some epic hikes with amazing elevation gains that gave us beautiful heights, lakes, waterfalls, and snow capped mountains to explore.

And, then, there was our visit to the University of Washington.  

We may have lost our son to the PNW.

We also found out that Seattle is known, not only for coffee and IPA’s, but for biscuits!  We had a biscuit the first day that was so huge and so good, I wanted to get more…but, when I went back later in the week, there was a 30 minute wait just to place an order!  

In today’s Gospel lesson, the focus seems to be on bread.  Jesus had just performed the miracle where he fed the 5,000 from a few loaves of bread and fishes.  There was so much food that they had leftovers.  The Gospel narrative implies that folks had their fill, they were well fed.  

We start at verse 24 where Jesus has left that occasion and the crowds are wondering where Jesus and they go looking for him.  They catch up with him in verse 25 and give him the respectful address as Rabbi or teacher and ask when he got there, as if to say, where have you been?  They wanted more of that bread, just like our family wanted more of those biscuits!   It had filled them up and they not only wanted more, they had some questions.  

Jesus picks up on this and makes a statement that they weren’t really looking for him, but for what he could provide for them.  They were not simply looking for a show of power or a miracle, they were at they simply wanted more feed.  They had a needy outlook and what to meet needs.  Jesus has none of that, and simply says that you are so much more than simply trying to satisfy your needs or the needs of others.  

It reminds me of how we, in the church, and in the non-profit world in general, often ask, what are our needs or even the needs of those around us?  Sometimes those are good to identify, but there is a deeper question to ask, what are we aiming for?  Who are we?  What do we have already?  I think those questions are exemplified in the feeding of the 5000.  Jesus knows that folks need to be fed, but instead of asking how do we get to a place, he simply says, what do we have?  What are our assets, then he uses those assets to bless the people gathered.

Jesus goes on to say in our passage this morning that we should not work for food that spoils.  Again, he’s saying that we can provide for needs of the moment, but we should look for something deeper, something more meaningful or even empowering.  We should look for food that doesn’t spoil, that lasts forever and is eternal.  And, remember, as we’ve mentioned before, the word eternal in the gospels has much more to do with quality than quantity.  Jesus wants us to have big, meaningful, and full lives together with each other and with God.  

Jesus also goes on to say that God has placed God’s seal of approval on the Son of Man.  Two things about that:  in those days, a seal was meant to be placed on something that was being offered as a sacrifice, it meant that it was an acceptable gift.  The Son of Man also signifies identity with humanity, God has placed his seal on Jesus who represents us, therefore God has given us, humanity, his approval through Jesus.  It’s also a gift, we can’t work towards it, it is given to us. 

The folks hearing this, much like us today, don’t get it.  They feel that they have to somehow do something, earn it.  Jesus says, no, the only work that you have to do is to believe.  Of course, that can be harder than any physical action.  Movement in our lives towards believing in God and in others can be difficult.  It takes trust, love, and a recognition on our part that we don’t have to be defensive or try to prove ourselves, we simply are called to believe in God and, subsequently, to believe in others.  That doesn’t mean we can’t question or have our doubts, on the contrary, believing in something or someone causes the beauty of mystery and curiosity to flow as it is held together by a bond of friendship, of relationship.

Which, is what Jesus is driving his listeners towards.  They keep on asking questions and go to the place of trying to connect Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 to Moses providing Manna from heaven.  Moses’ Manna lasted for 40 years and helped the Jewish population stay alive physically, but the point of that is that it came from heaven.  God provided through Moses.  Jesus says this, says this is truth telling, God has given them, and us, the true bread from heaven, that gives life to the world, everyone.

They clamored for that kind of bread and asked where they could get it.  Jesus then declares with a double imperative, which translates from the Greek “I am, I am the bread of life.”  Whoever is willing to believe and to dare to grow and become the person that God created them to be, to receive the gift of relationship from God will never be thirsty.  

Friends, this world needs this kind of bread.  I used tell my cross country runners all of the time that there are good carbs and bad carbs.  Bad carbs can fill you up but have no nutritional value other than making you a larger person, but good carbs give you energy and are building blocks for getting stronger, healthier.  

Jesus is coming to us with the promise of Presence, of relationship.  A promise that he will be with us, even in the darkness of our lives.  He doesn’t promise some self-help technique, he simply gives us relationship.  

Jesus is the bread of life, and that bread starts with yeast rising.  That yeast has been planted in this world through Jesus’ coming to us, entering humanity, being one with us, while also being one with the Father and with the Spirit.  

God’s Spirit is also moving in and through us like yeast in dough.  We’re being molded and moved around, it’s sometimes a bit awkward, but that yeast is working its way through the dough and Christ is rising up within us and around us.

Friends, as we participate in the Lord’s Supper, let’s remember the seed that God has planted in us, God’s very self, God’s Presence, that is growing, that is giving us ideas and new life, and is moving us towards being the body of Christ to the world around us and to each other.

One Family.

Ephesians 2:11-22

11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.21 In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually[e] into a dwelling place for God.

Mark 6:30-34

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

Mark 6:53-56

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him,55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Sermon:

These past few weeks have been very reflective as you could imagine.  Being back in Louisville and driving to the hospital, then to the rehab center, and then back to the hospital, I’ve been on roads and in parts of town that I have not been in a while.  In between long periods of simply sitting in my mom’s hospital room, working remotely, making calls, reading and studying, there were also times when lots of folks would come to visit, persons that were my parent’s friends.  Some of these families go back generations, as in my mom went to high school with them, and my grandparents went to the same high school with their grandparents…and some were generations!  Lots of memories…as well as growth.

I’ve often said that growing up in Louisville, in my family, and in my Southern Baptist church seems like several lifetimes ago.  There are some good similarities to that Rich Jones, but I’m really different than I was 35 years, heck, I’m different than I was 5 years ago, maybe even 5 days ago!  

Through it all, there’s a sense that I, along with many of us, are becoming more aware that we are moving towards being something more.  We are defying roles, labels, stereotypes, and becoming deeply connected in our humanity with one another.

This is why Jesus came.  Jesus embodied this sense of oneness.  He redefined “family” as more inclusive and closer than we could imagine.  He redefined religion to being more about relationship.  He redefined humanity as not belonging to different categories, clans, or whatever, but to abolish what divides and to bring us together.  

Our passage this morning in Ephesians says just that…what’s more, it reminds us of the universal nature of Christ.  That Christ brings us together with one another and with those who have gone before us and after us.

I was talking with a friend this week about death, what’s next, what does it resurrection look like.  There are no certainties, but Scripture tells us that we are somehow connected in this life and in the next.  

Jesus is calling us toward living life, real life, together.  He’s inviting us along on a journey, a lifelong journey.  A journey built on authenticity.

That’s why, in our gospel lesson, that so many folks wanted to be around Jesus.  He was vulnerable, honest, real.  More than words or the miracles, they believed in Jesus because Jesus believed in them.  He was a lover.  A lover of all people and things and lived it out.  Belief, love, trust, that can bring expansive growth where labels and dogma simply don’t matter anymore.  Where simply being around someone like Jesus can bring healing as people become more aware, more real, and more themselves.  

Even though growing up in the Baptist church had some things about it that were really hard and I’m still learning from it and growing past it, there were also some great relationships that helped me to become more aware…and, one constant, I have always been a follower of Jesus…and more than the religious control that was put on me at times, that relationship has shown me how to be human and to believe in others and to seek folks out who believe in me as Jesus did.  

I was active in my church growing up, and particularly close to our associate pastor and his wife.  They were our youth leaders.  We had a lot of great adventures together, mission trips, summer camp, youth group, hayrides, weekend retreats in the Smokies, and lots of late night conversations.  

When some things happened in our church though, they felt compelled to leave.  After they left, we went through some transition and I ended up on this internal quest to sort of find myself.

When I was 17, the fall of my senior year of high school, I was president of our FCA/Good News  club (Fellowship of Christian Athletes).  Our teacher sponsor introduced me to a friend of his, Ken Goss.  Ken was the Youth for Christ director in Louisville and they were starting this thing called Campus Life at my school.  It wasn’t long when they started meeting weekly at my best friend’s house, Jeff Hume.  I was invited to simply come and check it out, so I did.

When I went to Campus Life, I thought that there was no way that this could be a Christian or even religious deal.  They laughed a lot, played games, sang songs, and many of my friends who would never go to church showed up there.  Plus, the campus life leaders, Ken, and Andy Harshberger, were very genuine.  They weren’t afraid to be honest and to ask some tough questions in a loving way, never in a condemning way.

I loved it. 

It was like a breath of fresh air.  It also began within me a sense that God really is relational and desires for me to be in relationship, right and deep relationship with others and with God.  

I also began to see Jesus as a real human, someone who I can come to and believed in me, which enabled me to believe in him.  This Jesus who has a deep compassion for me and for others.  This Jesus who yearns for me and my community of friends and my high school.  This love compelled me to come to the call of being a pastor…to have a passion for others to know this Jesus and to know that they can be loved and have a sense of community, of relationship with others and with God.  

This same Jesus has been moving me towards this place of love my entire life, to places where roles, definitions, boundaries, are all wrapped up in this deep sense of love and connection to all people and things.  

Our scripture this morning shows a Jesus that ALL can come to, no matter where they are in life.  Just like me in many ways, the folks in Israel at the time this passage was written were steeped in a religious culture, they knew the stories.  Yet, they were stuck in a cultural system over that took precedence over authentic relationship, they didn’t know that God was calling them into an intimate relationship with God and into a community of intimate relationships with others.  Jesus appears on the scene, Jesus, like some folks in our lives, demonstrated a love, a deep and authentic desire for relationship with others.  He also shared good news that God’s love was extended to everyone, not just those who were in synagogue or the temple every week, but everyone.  

Jesus didn’t say, don’t go to temple, don’t do the things that you have been taught to do, but BE someone better, love well, show justice, compassion and demonstrative action for the poor, for those on the margins of community, for those who have felt real persecution or oppression.  And, the way to experience that being was not to simply sit in church every week, but to know deeply the love that God showers upon you and to develop ways to understand that love just as you would invest in any friendship, spend time with God as you interact with your neighbors, family, friends.  

Our passage gives witness to people hungering for God, and feeling compelled to come to Jesus, to experience this love, and Jesus calls them into the desert, to slow down and contemplate what God has done for them.  I can also relate to that as God has called, and continue s to call me to places like the Springs in Indiana, or the Abbey of Gethsemani in KY…or even literally the desert when we lived in SoCal to get away with him.  And, quite frankly, if all goes well with my mom, I’m lookin forward to some time away with my own family and some friends I haven’t seen in a while in the Pacific Northwest this next week.  

Jesus calls us, his church to do the same, to take time outs in our days and sometimes longer to experience relationship with him.  As we do this, as we our allowing ourselves to be alone with God, we may find this God calling us to come to him.  In our scriptures, we see those following Jesus and that the crowds came because they were consumed by God’s love and that love was contagious.

The writer in Ephesians reminds us that we were once Gentiles, unbelievers, did not know God’s love.  Yet, God’s love came and was demonstrated to us through Jesus.  Up until Jesus, devout Jews did not believe that God’s love extended to everyone.  Yet, in Jesus, we are shown and told that we are one in our humanity.  Jesus abolished the felt need for the rules that were outside regulators of behavior, and gave us himself.  Jesus was and is the perfect humanist!  He wants us to be our truest selves.  

God’s story of redemptive love has power to change us, to inspire us, and like the disciples, to change the world.  Yet, no one can give us that power, that love, I can’t as your preacher, you can’t with each other.  It is given freely to us by God’s Spirit, and we are called to come and be joined together, all of us, with Christ as our example and cornerstone.  

Friends, we have much to be thankful for, and much work to do of self, others, and God awareness.  May we know that this God is calling us towards divine union with God’s self and everyone and everything, just as God is calling our neighbors, those who have been excluded by religious folk, all of humanity in Christ’s shared humanity with us. 

Family?!

Mark 6:14-29

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some weresaying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Sermon:

Whenever I preach on this text, these song lyrics come to mind:

You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need

If you remember, or recognize this song, it’s a Rolling Stones song from the late 60’s.  It seems appropriate for this morning’s text because Herod finds himself in an awkward place.  A place where he feels cornered into making a dark decision.

King Herod was not well liked. He maintained power as a regional ruler under roman authority.  He was the Jewish king, but he had to make a lot of folks feel secure.  Israel was a religious culture based on a set of theological and cultural understandings.  There were Pharisees and Sadducees, religious leaders and legal scholars who had set up a system of daily living that kept society and culture in a particular order, there were on top, as was the political authority of the King.  Now, Herod and the religious leaders didn’t like each other much.  The religious leaders put up with him as long as he didn’t rock the status quo.  He kept certain things in line, kept the masses under control with his thugs and soldiers, and they were backed up by the roman army that occupied Israel.  

The religious authorities looked passed Herod’s morality because it was convenient.  However, they were starting to have some uncomfortable concerns, especially considering he had taken his brother’s wife, Herodias.  Yet, because of their relative comfort at the top of the social food chain, they let him get away with it.

Herod knew that, he also had a lot of wants.  He desired his brother’s wife, and we can tell by this passage, that he liked big parties, and he lusted after his wife’s daughter as she danced for him.  We also know that his now wife was pretty crafty and knew how to work the relationship with Herod by pushing her daughter to dance for him.  Pretty scandalous stuff.

It’s easy to judge Herod with history on our side, but as I read this passage, I had to ask, was their an inkling of hope for conversion, for growth, for repentance and change within Herod?  

Herod was drawn to the teachings of Jesus and John the Baptist.  He put John in prison, but from the passage, we can see that John the Baptist had access to Herod.  Herod was drawn to John’s message.  What was John’s message?  In Matthew 3, we hear these words:  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.  John was saying first and foremost, Jesus is coming near, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.  A new day was dawning, God in the flesh is here.  The truest human, Jesus was walking on earth, showing folks how to love well and preaching a message of hope and release.  John was saying that God is nearer than we realize, that God’s love is more real than even the temple in Jerusalem, more real than all of the rules of the religious leaders, and more meaningful than all of the systems that we have set up to maintain power, status quo…and that life, real life, meaning deeper than all of our lusts are found in a relationship with God and others.  

John also had hard words…because this love was so near, we need to repent, to change, to grow.  He shared those words with Herod.  But, Herod didn’t want to give up on his wants, he didn’t understand that there was a new day dawning.  He was drawn to John, but he also feared John.  Herod had a lot of anxiety as he held on to what he knew.  He also knew that John’s message had appeal to the masses.

So, we come to the party.  It’s a family party, but this family has some interesting dynamics!   Herod’s wife is feeling insecure and makes a dark move.  Have her daughter dance and ask for John’s head.  Again, it’s easy to judge her, but she wanted to keep what she knew going.  She felt threatened and saw an opportunity to get rid of John.  She also had anxieties…she didn’t understand why Herod kept John around, especially knowing that John was telling Herod that their relationship was wrong.  

The daughter dances, Herod is drunk with lust and literally drunk.  He tells the daughter that he’s pleased and she can have anything she wants.  She follows through and asks for John’s head.  Herod tries to sober up, he’s caught in a hard place.  But, rather than making a stand for what is right, rather than staying curious and in relationship with John, in order to save face with the immediate crowd, he gives into the system that he’s a part of and gives the girl John’s head.  

It’s a tragic story, yet it gets played out in our lives daily.  We may not be dancing for the king, or beheading anyone literally, and we may not be in a literal prison.  Yet, we are all being called to see that God loves us and is near to us.  We are all prisoners to a system inside and outside of us that imprisons us, that keeps us thinking and acting in ways that we are used to.  Yet, John’s message rings true to us, God is near, we have a moment to change to and to grow and to be the persons that you have always wanted to be.  You have an opportunity to repent.  

It makes us uncomfortable and react to this message in many ways.  

The question is do we want to do the hard work of recognition, of sobering up to a new reality, of living life together in community and not as individuals.  Herod thought John was drawn to John because of John’s closeness to God, he wanted some of that, but he also wanted to live life on his own terms, or so he thought.  He was actually enslaved to a way of living and thinking that prevented him from truly knowing himself, God, or others.  John couldn’t give him that automatically, John couldn’t give God to Herod.  God was, and is, already there and here.  Herod simply needed to want to see it and to make a stand for once in his life that went against what he thought he knew.  Herod didn’t understand or love himself, didn’t understand or love his own community in Israel as he only wanted to maintain power, and didn’t have a desire to see the greater world around him changed through the love of God.  

Friends, if Herod were here today, I would hope that I would have the courage to tell him three things.  Since he’s not here, but we’re here, I would propose that these three things will help us to break free from whatever enslaves us in order to make better decisions that lead to life, real life.

  1. Be willing to understand and truly love yourself.  That’s possibly the hardest thing to do.  But, I believe through relationships and community with each other, we can begin to see ourselves in deeper and more helpful ways.  I would suggest taking advantage of the weekly Bible study that we have, looking for a spiritual director, starting a Bible study on your own with others.  I have some other tools and resources that I’d love to share with you as well.  
  2. Loving your community.  That’s the neighborhood in which this church resides, and your neighborhood in which you live.  The two can’t be separated.  Love well and live well with others.  That means honoring and not labeling or putting others in boxes.  You don’t want to be in a box, so why put others?  Stay curious and stay open to possibilities that emerge within this church and within your neighborhood.
  3. Having a concern for the world.  Jesus came for the whole world, God is not small.  God wants all of us to live in a way that not only honors those closest to us, but those around the world.  Also, having an understanding that being spiritual encompasses everything in this world.  God is present everywhere, our UCC theology says that God takes the ordinary and gives everything meaning.  There is meaning and spiritual meaning all around us.  

I used to love coaching my XC kids, telling them that they all have a moment of truth in a race.  Will they push in that 3rd mile to win or to reach a goal, or will they give in a settle for 2nd place.  I can’t guarantee the outcome, but I can tell kids and to each of us, that pushing through to the other side, a willingness to meet the moment of truth and decide to push through to a better way of running or living life will cause growth.  

Herod was given a moment of truth, and he decided to save face and succumb to the systems or surroundings that he found himself.  He is truly the victim in this story.  We don’t have to be the victims, we can meet our moment of truth, whenever we recognize it, and experience the full life of God’s Presence.  

Power.

Mark 6:1-13

The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

The Mission of the Twelve

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

What a week.  Writing this sermon in the midst of this past week has some interesting pondering within me.  

As many of you know, my mom was taken to the hospital last week.  In the course of her being in the hospital, we found that she has cancer in different parts of her body.  It’s been a wild week of wrapping our minds and hearts around it.  And, as I mentioned earlier, we so appreciate your prayers and your support this past week!  It’s an amazing testimony to the love and care of this particular church community!

Being in Louisville, in my hometown has given me some perspective, as it often does, of how I grew up.  People know me in a certain way, and, it’s fascinating, it’s me, but it’s also several lifetimes ago.  Even my mom has a vision of me that’s not the full picture of who I’m becoming.  Now, there is lots of love and and oftentimes folks see a version of ourselves that we need to see as well, or be reminded of.  But, all of us have a sense of being in different places of understanding ourselves over the years, don’t we?

Jesus is not different from us, his hometown knew him as Mary and Joseph’s son.  He was a carpenter.  Galilee, during this season was apparently fairly prosperous, so he wasn’t a wandering carpenter, but had fairly stable employment.  We know from a few readings ago that some in his family wanted him to have some stability and not get out ahead of himself or others.  So, heading back to his hometown had Jesus thinking a lot I bet!

As we’ve read the past few Sundays and discussed, Jesus had been busy!  Calming storms, healing folks, performing miracles, raising people from the dead.  Starting a movement that was getting a lot of attention, both good and bad.  Showing radically inclusive love and inviting folks to think differently within the systems that they have lived in.  You know, just the ordinary Son of God kinds of things…

Yet, his hometown didn’t throw him a parade, didn’t welcome him with open arms, they were amazed…but, in the kind of incredulous kind of way.  Saying things like, “who does he think he is?”, “Where does his wisdom come from?”.  And, as if to say, we “know” him, “isn’t he the daughter of Mary, brother of of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon?”  Which is interesting, because later in scriptures, we know Mary stands with her son, and that at least two of his brothers become early church leaders.  

There’s also this theme of faith that we’ve talked about in the past.  It seems like Jesus is telling us that faith is shared, it is something we have and that we have to exercise it, practice it, for it to grow or be useful.  

But, the people in Jesus’ hometown did not want to do that.  They wanted to stay comfortable and keep folk “in their place”.  He’s Mary’s son they say, not even mentioning his earthly dad.  The crowd may have been suggesting that Jesus was different, and maybe he really wasn’t Joseph’s kid…of course, if only they knew…or were willing to risk getting to know Jesus now.

For 30 years, Jesus had been someone, now he was growing into a very public, deeper version of himself, his “true self” as the monk Thomas Merton would say.

He tries to do some miracles there, but could only lay hands on a few sick people…and realized that the familiarity of who he had been was would not let folks see him, or his power of love.  He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Again, could it be that his hometown was looking for a heroic, triumphant, local kid makes good kind of story?  I think so.

But, Jesus was in the process of re-ordering so many things.  How we view one another, how we love, how we connect, and who’s included (everyone), and that God does not show favoritism but wants all of us to be in communion with one another, and with God.  That there is one allegiance in this world that matters, and that is to God.  

God has been telling God’s people forever to be a witness to God’s love to the world, to the nations.  Instead, they became just like the other other nations.  God’s power was shown as God giving God’s self to us, and that we are to follow in God’s example.  And, specifically, to follow in God’s example through Jesus.  Yet, we too, just like Israel, often forget and simply become just like others, living in a system and a culture without thinking much about how to make our lives and the lives of others more connected, more human as in the image of God that we were created.  

I love this quote from Richard Rohr on power:

“God has communicated in a million ways that “I am your power,” but we do not believe and trust what we cannot see or prove. Instead, we bow down to lesser kings (like institutions, nations, wars, ideologies, etc.) that we can see, even when they serve us quite poorly.” – Richard Rohr

Jesus has a message, this message that God’s presence, God’s kingdom, God’s reign, is with us and it supersedes all other earthly kingdoms, systems, governments, etc.  

He calls his disciples, his closest disciples around him and sends them out to share this with others.

He tells them to go in twos, because we are relational and need each other.  None of us are superman or wonder woman on our own.  To only take a staff…not a bag, don’t take bread, and wear sandals, but don’t take an extra tunic.  To lean in on the first house that shows hospitality, don’t go to another house if it’s nicer, but stick with the first.  

Again, this past week was a good reminder of so much, that relationships are important more than anything.  I did pack a small bag, but only one change of boxers as I thought, at first, that I will only be in Louisville for a day and night…but, when the severity of mom’s condition was presented, I knew I needed to stay a bit longer.  

Hospitals are supposed to be places of welcome, rest, relief, and healing.  Hospital comes from the word “hospitality”.  And, mom’s hospital was pretty good at that.  

As Jesus followers, we are also places and people of welcome, of rest from a weary world, of grace and relief, and of healing.  Healing of ourselves, others, and living into the promises of God.  As we do that, we change, people don’t understand us, we are even not welcome at times.

Yet, Jesus says to shake the dust off of our feet and move on if we are not welcomed.  Now, this doesn’t mean that we give up on those who don’t welcome us.  I’ve heard it said that this actually a phrase that means to dust off the criticism that we receive and keep on walking the path that we have been given within a community of faith called to love the neighborhood in which we live.  

Friends, may we live into the faith that God has in us as God sends us out, together.  May we receive and give hospitality and share the good news that God is with us and loves us.  May we be the alternative, loving, authentic community within a world so desperately in need of people and places like that.  

And may we remember along the way that we are in communion with ourselves, others, and God as demonstrated in through Jesus.  

Faith.

Mark 5:21-43

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat[ to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearingwhat they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. 

When I was in high school, a freshman, I went out for the soccer team.  We ran like 7 miles the first day.  It was miserable.  I went out for track that same year, we ran a lot the first day.  I quit to  thereafter…seems like I had not fully realized how much running was involved in being a runner.  At that time in life, I realized I hated running.   

At 37 I went in for a physical with my doctor.  He said I was healthy, but not as healthy as I could be.  He told me that I think I’m active, because of being a pastor to students, but I wasn’t consistent and my cholesterol was a bit high.  He asked me how I was going to live my second half of life?  Which I thought then and now that his statement wasn’t very optimistic!  He also encouraged me to find a sport or activity that I could be consistent in.  Deb was a runner at the time, so I thought if she can do it, so can I.  I became a bit desperate, then obsessive, and I fell in love with it and running brought lots of changes and opportunities for me.  At 37, I was ready to run.  Plus, the more I ran, the more I saw that I’ve always had it in me, my understanding of faith in my running deepen.  

In our lectionary reading this morning from the Gospel of Mark, we pick up where we left off last week.  Jesus and his disciples have finally made it through the storms on the sea or lake that they were crossing and made it to the other side.  If you remember last week, we talked about Jesus being with us in the storms of life, both physically and metaphorically.  And, to have faith that something or someone is with us no matter what.  Well, they get to the other side, and there’s no rest for the weary!  They are immediately surrounded by a great crowd.  These two stories are lumped together because they are have a bit of a contrast in the character’s faith and one is named and the other has remained anonymous throughout history.

Jairus is listed as a religious leader in the synagogue, he immediately comes to Jesus and asks him to come to his house for his daughter is dying.  It’s interesting to note that this guy is part of the religious establishment.  Many of these folks looked at Jesus as a threat, some warily, some were curious…but, this guy had faith that Jesus could do something for his daughter.  So, Jesus seems to respond to faith…as if saying that if you are with me, we can do this together…and says he’ll go to Jairus’ house.  Now, Jairus is the ruler of the local synagogue.  He’s a high profile guy and is a leader in his community.  He’s an insider, yet Jesus sees him, and heads to his house.  

But, on the way there, he has to go through a crowd.  In that crowd is a woman, unlike Jairus, we don’t know her name.  She’s been anonymous throughout history.  She was an outsider.  Because of the religious rules of that time, she could not go to the synagogue, she could not be a part of community, because she had been hemorrhaging for 12 years.  In Jewish custom at that time, blood was considered unclean.  You would have to go through a purification ritual that takes days to be considered clean.  If you are hemorrhaging for that long, you are never clean.  

She was desperate.  She needed healing, she longed to be in community, and she approached Jesus with a simple faith of, “if I can just get close enough to touch his cloak, I will be healed”.  

This woman has been through so much pain, she’s seen so many doctors, she had depleted her savings, and yet she was getting worst, not better.  This sounds like something that so many folks in our society today doesn’t it?

So, she goes to Jesus.  Works her way through the crowds, and touches Jesus’ cloak.  And, miraculously, she’s healed.  

Jesus feels power going out from him, he looks around to see who it was, he can’t find out and so who he asks who touched him.  The disciples are incredulous and ask, how can we know?  See the people around you?

Think about that moment.  Have you ever been in a crowd and lost track of someone?  How many of us have had experiences where we lost sight of a child or a parent or someone that we were with in a crowd.  It can be frantic.  

This woman though mustered the courage and came forward.  She was scared, something amazing had just happened.  But, she took a risk, was vulnerable, and shared her story.

Friends, being vulnerable like this can be risky, yet she had the courage to do it…even in the midst of her trauma.  This past week I came across this quote from the late Rev. Rachel Held Evans that points out how important the church is, it sums up the vulnerable risk taking people and places that churches should be:

“We long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable.”

That’s what this woman needed, a safe place to be vulnerable.  This woman who was an outsider the synagogue and to the culture at large.  

Jesus gives an interesting respond, “your faith has made you well, go in peace, and (as well) be healed of your disease.”

It’s as if Jesus is saying that the physical healing is secondary, but, what you really want is to be made well, to be whole, and to have peace…that only happens through your faith…a faith that takes risks, that notices things.

I heard this week that we in the church can talk all we want about spiritual growth, awareness, etc.  But, what is necessary in our churches is to develop the practices of spiritual growth and awareness.  That means taking the time to walk, or journal, or be quiet, to reflect, to notice the beauty within you and others, and to hold all of you and others up, even the messy stuff.  To embrace life and to live it.  The church cannot give anyone what they need spiritually, but it can be a powerful witness to God’s love and actions in and through us by God’s giving of God’s self to us.  

Power went out of Jesus, God gives, the woman received it, and the woman met Jesus.  He saw her, she saw him, they were known, and she stood up and had agency.  Agency is defined as the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own choices.  This woman did just that, as did Jesus…and they met…and her life was never the same.

While this was happening, folks came from Jairus’ house and told Jairus not to bother Jesus anymore for his daughter is dead.  Jesus told him to not be afraid, to believe.  Again, belief in this passage is not about dogma or correct theological thinking, it’s believe in me, as a person, as someone that has faith in himself and in you.  

They go to the house, Jesus just takes a couple of the disciples and when they get there, they hear this great commotion of people crying and waling…Jesus asks them why are you weeping, she’s just asleep…and they laugh.  It may have seemed ridiculous to the folks in the house, or maybe it was a bit of a nervous laugh.  Either way, it didn’t seem to phase Jesus…he sent everyone out but the parents and his disciples into the room of the daughter, took her hand and told her to “get up”.  And, she did…and even walked about around and Jesus made sure that she had something to eat.  

Again, these two healings, together.  One of an anonymous woman, another of a daughter of Jairus, a prominent leader.  It seems as if Jesus is telling us that he shows no favoritism.  That everyone is loved and however we meet Jesus, that this Jesus wants us to “show up”.  We, the church, or a pastor, or a program cannot force someone to “see” or “hear” the divine, or even touch the divine.  We can only do that when we are ready, or are desperate enough.  

Let’s ask those questions, and let’s run Fleming Road UCC!

Amen.